Well, no surprise to anyone, the outspoken “American Atheists” doesn’t like to be reminded that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” A $25,000 billboard in New York City’s Times Square depicts a close-up of Christ’s face as He hung on the cross with a crown of thorns. The billboard proclaims: “Keep the MERRY!” and urges viewers to get Christ out of Christmas by implying Jesus Christ, the Son of God (along with His death and Resurrection), are mythological.
Historically Christians began celebrating Christmas because Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, was born into this world. People celebrate holidays for all sorts of reasons, and no one with an ounce of awareness thinks that everyone who celebrates Christmas does so to honor the birth of the Savior of the world. But regardless of variations in motives and personal beliefs of individuals, when we say, “Merry Christmas,” we are acknowledging at least with our mouths the truth that God’s Son came into the world.
The best reason to be “merry,” Christians understand, is the joy and gratitude we have for the salvation freely provided by our Savior’s sacrifice.
The best reason to be “merry,” Christians understand, is the joy and gratitude we have for the salvation freely provided by our Savior’s sacrifice. And despite all the other reasons people choose to be “merry” at the holidays—to fellowship with friends and family, to feed the needy, to delight young children, to give special gifts to those they love—or even just for materialistic and indulgent reasons—those additional “reasons” for “merriment” don’t change history. Jesus Christ is a historical figure whose impact on human history has been astonishing and profound due to who He is—the incarnate Son of God—and what He did—revealing God fully to man (John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:10), dying on the cross for the sins of all mankind (Hebrews 2:9 and 2 Corinthians 5:21), and rising from the dead as proof of His deity (Romans 1:4, 4:25; Acts 1:3). His Resurrection from the dead remains one of the best attested events in history.
Many are upset that the billboard dishonors Jesus Christ by proclaiming His history to be a myth while exploiting His suffering countenance to contrast with the “merry” spirit of Christmas. Yet, for all their blasphemous intentions, the atheist sponsors of the billboard could not have chosen a better way to help Christians proclaim the Gospel message. The suffering Christ on the billboard graphically proclaims the reason that Jesus became a human being.
Jesus Christ came into this world about 2,000 years ago to die for the sins of human beings, to pay the sin debt that humans began accruing the day Adam and Eve sinned. What better way to remind people of the real reason for the season than to show what our Savior did for us all about 33 years after His birth.
The national advertising agency that posted the billboard said the billboard is within the atheists’ right of free speech, and so it is. (Although for those Christian business owners who may be considering where to spend their advertising dollars, we would point out that the First Amendment guarantees the government will not stand in the way of free speech. The amendment does not obligate a private business to accept a paid commission to proclaim such messages.) The incredible hypocrisy of atheists who loudly remind the country that they have the right to keep the “merry” and trash our Christ while demanding public nativities be banned to protect atheist sensibilities is also evident. While the billboard may be on private property, there could hardly be a more public place than Times Square.1
Yet we as Christians should consider another angle on this billboard. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians that he knew certain hypocritical and envious people were preaching the message of Christ in a mocking way to increase Paul’s troubles, for he was in prison for preaching the gospel at the time. Yet despite their evil motives, Paul rejoiced that God was able to use their mocking message to expose even more people to the true message that Jesus Christ died for their sins and rose from the dead to save them.
So as we complete our Christmas season, let us pray that many who see that message will be struck with a conviction that Jesus Christ didn’t come to host a party or to be a cosmic Santa but to die and bear sin’s penalty in their place. God can make use even of the hatred of atheists, for as Psalm 76:10 says, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise You.” We will therefore join with the apostle and say:
But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:12–18)
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- Nativity Scenes Questioned (for more about legally permissible Christmas displays)
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